As the Islamic holy month of Ramadan approaches, observant Muslims around the world prepare to abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. In Libya, a country with a deep-rooted love for espresso, the anticipation for that first cup of coffee after breaking the daily fast is palpable.
The bustling city center of Tripoli is adorned with countless cafes, ranging from small kiosks to expansive halls, all boasting sophisticated Italian espresso machines. The national love for espresso in Libya can be traced back to Italy’s colonization, leaving a lasting cultural imprint on the country.
Abdel Basset Hamza, a shopowner in Tripoli’s Old City, shares his excitement for the daily ritual of breaking the fast with a cup of coffee, stating that nothing is more consumed than this beloved beverage. He also highlights the distinction between Libyan coffee and that found in neighboring North African and Middle Eastern countries. “You don’t find coffee of this quality made in this way with such machines,” he says with pride.
As the beginning of Ramadan nears, mostly male crowds gather outside the capital’s cafes to savor their last daytime cups of coffee before the fasting period starts. Despite the limitations of daytime consumption, cafe owners like Mohamed Zourgani, who manages his grandfather’s Old City cafe, remain optimistic about business during the holy month. He believes that instead of a decrease in demand, coffee consumption will become concentrated in the evenings, as Libyans rush to break their fast with their favorite caffeinated beverage.
Libya’s coffee culture dates back to the 15th century, when coffee beans from Yemen made their way along North African trade routes and into Europe. The Italian occupation in 1911 introduced a new twist to this longstanding tradition, as strong espressos replaced the cardamom-infused Arabic coffee. Nevertheless, Zourgani notes that older generations still appreciate the traditional Arabic coffee, while younger generations prefer espresso or macchiato.
Despite the tumultuous political and social climate in Libya over the past decade, the nation’s love for coffee remains unwavering. Amidst ongoing conflicts and economic hardships, Libyans continue to frequent Tripoli’s cafes, discussing politics and daily life over a “tazza” of coffee, an espresso-sized cup that costs less than a euro.
For many, like 24-year-old Ali Khawaja, Ramadan offers a unique opportunity to appreciate coffee even more. He shares that coffee is an integral part of every iftar table, the meal marking the end of the daily fast. Throughout the evenings, friends gather to enjoy the cherished drink and celebrate their enduring love for espresso in Libyan culture.